The October debate will break a record for the number of candidates onstage at once

First up, let’s talk about the October debate. The first tidbit is that having twelve candidates onstage at the same time actually sets a RECORD for a presidential primary debate. That’s one more candidate than the biggest stage in the 2016 Republican cycle, which was famously kind of a circus. So, basically, get your popcorn ready and put your seatbelt on.

In an article for Politico, Zach Montellaro summed up the challenge.

“A crowded 12-person debate stage — up from an already busy 10-person stage — could also change the incentives for the candidates on stage. More candidates means less speaking time all around, and past debate rules have encouraged conflict between the candidates.
Candidates who are mentioned by other candidates in past debates have gotten time to respond, which encourages lower-tier candidates to take a swing at a candidate at the center of the stage, in hopes they can trigger an extended back-and-forth discussion. Moderators, too, have goaded candidates, asking pointed questions about specific front-runners’ policies and history to other candidates. (Neither the DNC, nor the two media partners for the debate, CNN and The New York Times, has released the rules for the next debate yet.)”

Okay, and while we’re at it, CNN has released the podium order for the stage. There was no need for The Draw this time, because there’s just the one night. The positions are based on polling averages drawn from the period leading up to debate qualification. And by the way, yes, we have a new candidate here, that’s Tom Steyer—this will be his first time in a DNC debate.

All right, from left to right the order is:

Gabbard, Steyer, Booker, Harris, Sanders, Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, Yang, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, and Castro.

As we get closer to the debate, which is one week from tomorrow, I’ll talk more about Debate Bingo and how you can stream the whole thing.

Booker and Steyer qualify for the November debate

After a new Fox News poll in South Carolina, we have two more candidates who have racked up enough polls to reach the November debate stage. Remember, we don’t yet know when that debate will be, or where, and therefore what the cutoff date is for polls…so…get ‘em while they’re hot, I guess.

Okay, the newly qualified candidates are Senator Cory Booker and Tom Steyer. Booker got 3% in South Carolina and Steyer got 4%. The poll itself had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points in either direction.

The last time this particular poll was run was back in July, so a lot has changed in the electoral landscape since then. A few notable results are that Biden is now up to 41% overall in the state, and Warren is at 12% in a distant second place. Behind her is Sanders with 10%, then Harris and Steyer are tied at 4%. Everybody else is down below that, and by the way, there is a sizable 16% chunk of the people polled who say they don’t know who they’d vote for. Which is fair, because they’ve still got some months left to figure it out.

All right, so what else is going on with November qualification? Well, the addition of Booker and Steyer today brings that November field up to SEVEN. You have one candidate right on the cusp of qualifying, that’s Andrew Yang who needs just one more poll. And then you have two candidates with one qualifying poll each, those are Klobuchar and O’Rourke. Remember, this is the round where the DNC requires four polls at 3% or higher, and you have a lot of candidates hanging around with 1% and 2% results, but not quite cracking that 3% threshold.

Ballot measures face an unexpected side-effect of the 2018 midterms

Next up, a story on ballot measures and how the blue wave in 2018 will make it harder for ballot measures to end up on the 2020 ballot.

So first up, let’s define a “ballot measure” real quick. These are sometimes called “ballot initiatives” or “propositions” and those words tend to vary based on where you live. So you have heard of famous ones like Proposition 8 in California—that’s one of these. Anyway, a ballot measure is any piece of proposed legislation that is put on a local ballot for a vote by the voting population, rather than the legislature itself. These tend to be things like legalizing marijuana, or same-sex marriage, or certain kinds of tax plans, or other stuff that might have a different outcome if voters voted on the issue directly, rather than going through their state legislature.

The people who put together ballot measures have to follow local law—whether this is state, or county, or whatever is relevant—and often, that law requires gathering a bunch of signatures from registered voters in order to the put the issue on the ballot. Okay, so I think we’ve got that relatively well-defined.

In an article for The Fulcrum by Geoff West, we learn about a surprising outcome of the surge in voter turnout in 2018. Long story short, in roughly half of US states, the turnout of the previous election dictates how many signatures you need to get to put a ballot measure on the NEXT election’s ballot. So that 2018 surge in turnout means that it’s far more difficult—and expensive—to get these issues on the ballot in 2020.

Reading from the article:

“The upshot is the sort of irony associated with "no good deed going unpunished." In California, for example, groups will need nearly 1 million signatures for a 2020 ballot measure. For 2018, the number was only 585,000. In Oregon, the signature requirement jumped 27 percent thanks to all the extra votes cast last time. In Arizona, it went up 58 percent.
"It will have an effect, but whether it will be measurable by the number of initiatives that qualify for the ballot, I don't know," said Josh Altic, ballot measures project director at Ballotpedia, which tracks the progress of state ballot measures. "But I guarantee that it will be measurable in terms of what the average total cost of qualifying an initiative for the ballot is going to be in 2020."
That's because few citizen-led ballot initiatives are solely volunteer efforts. The majority are high-dollar affairs that require gathering signatures using resources like paid circulators. In 2018, the average cost per signature of a ballot measure nationwide was $5.60, according to Ballotpedia.”

Almost SIX BUCKS PER SIGNATURE. Ouch. So if you need a million signatures in California, you need six million dollars to put your measure on the ballot. Check out the article—link in the show notes—for a more complete discussion of why this cost is going up, and how hard it’s gonna be to get more measures on the 2020 ballot.

Williamson raises $3 million dollars

Next up, author Marianne Williamson announced late last week that her campaign raised $3 million dollars in Q3. That is substantially up from the $1.5 million dollars in each of Q1 and Q2 this year. So, great momentum, that’s a 100% jump from the previous quarter.

But, the Williamson campaign faces a problem in terms of cash-on-hand. Reading from an article in CNN by Dan Merica:

“Williamson, however, has spent much of the money she has raised. Her campaign announced on Thursday that the author had just over $650,000 in the bank, a small bankroll considering Williamson has raised more than $6.1 million [dollars] in 2019.”

Now, while we don’t yet have detailed breakdowns on spending for Q3, it seems likely that a lot of this money went to ads. There’s where a ton of political spending happens anyway, and Williamson, like all the Democratic candidates, has been forced to run ads at least to hit the donor thresholds for the DNC debates, but also to make sure her name is still out there—that it is clear to folks she is definitely still in this race.

Also, this $3 million dollar raise needs to be put in context. The obvious context is, yeah, this is way less than, say, Sanders, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Yang, and Booker. BUT it is substantially ahead of Senator Michael Bennet, who brought in just $2.1 million dollars in the same quarter. And she also beat Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who raised $2.3 million dollars, and is seeking public financing.

And there are still plenty of low-polling candidates who have not released their figures yet. So, Williamson already seems to have a better fundraising base than sitting Senators and Governors in this race. Stay tuned for October 15th, which is both debate night, and ALSO the deadline for submitting Q3 numbers to the FEC.

Sestak is gearing up to walk across New Hampshire

Former congressman and retired three-star admiral Joe Sestak is gearing up for a very long walk. Now, a quick reminder, Sestak entered the race extremely late due to his daughter’s brain cancer. She’s doing better now, so he’s in the race now, but he has not yet managed to qualify for a DNC debate.

That has not stopped him from doing a TON of retail politics on the ground in Iowa. If you follow his Twitter feed, Sestak is pushing hard to meet small groups of people face-to-face. He often posts short videos recorded in dark motel parking lots summing up whatever he did on a given day. Point being, he’s campaigning hard on a shoestring budget, but almost nobody outside of the early voting states really knows that.

So Sestak is about to do something a little unusual: He is going to walk the length of New Hampshire from east to west. That’s roughly a 100-mile walk, and he plans to take about seven days to do it. Reading from an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer by Julia Terruso:

“Sestak has New Balance sneakers for warmer days and Lands End boots for colder nights. He bought a reflective vest and a headlight. He’ll walk along highways and through towns and cities, and make more than 30 campaign appearances along the way. He’ll stop to stay overnight in motels (at which point he’ll jab a stick in the ground so he can pick up the walk where he left off). He hopes people join him.
On Oct[ober] 15[th], when 12 Democrats running for president are on the debate stage in Ohio, Sestak will be passing through Windham, [New Hampshire]. He’ll go to a town hall meeting and then host a live-stream conversation.”

And, by the way, this is not Sestak’s first walk. He famously walked more than 420 miles across the entire length of Pennsylvania back in 2015 when he was running for Senate. He did not win that race, but he did get media attention for the walk, and he got a lot of face-time with actual voters on the ground. So he’s at it again. Here’s a clip of Sestak explaining his motivations, while walking through a farm field by a busy road in New Hampshire. Listen in:


Buttigieg speaks at an NAACP fundraiser in Indianapolis

And last up today, a clip from Mayor Peter Buttigieg. On Friday night, he spoke for a little over 20 minutes to the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP. He was there for their 50th Freedom Fund Banquet.

And one segment of his remarks jumped out at me. After speaking about voter suppression in his state, and listing the names of Black members of his community who have been killed by the police, he gave a simple explanation of white privilege and his own experience of discrimination, which itself is not racial. I think this is worth listening to, in part because Buttigieg needs to make inroads with Black voters, but also because it speaks to a kind of honesty that we need to hear from candidates. The part BEFORE this is all about being an ally, and THIS part is about privilege and acknowledging the differences between ALL people. That’s the first step to THEN acknowledging the commonalities.

So listen in:


His full remarks are linked in the show notes, the last link is a video of the whole thing. It is a remarkable speech, and I recommend it to you if you want to see how Buttigieg does in a room that’s mostly of Black voters. Spoiler alert: He does pretty well.

Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. Winter is officially coming, y’all. My weather app tells me we have a hard freeze coming in Portland in the middle of this week, so now I gotta get out there and UNDO the whole irrigation thing I just set up for that arborvitae—which, by the way, is doing awesome, thanks to the excessive watering. So, I’m gonna go ahead and do that before the pipes explode or whatever. And you can stay tuned later in the week for stories of how I have configured several robotic vacuums to do most of my chores for me. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.